FA21 PHIL491/591

Note: This course is currently scheduled for in-person instruction.

Course: Special Topics in the History of Modern Philosophy (PHIL491/591)
Topic: Free Will
Prof. Marie Jayasekera

Mondays & Wednesdays  ·  12:30pm–1:45pm  ·  COB–139

If everything we do must happen because of events in the past, do we really have a say in what we do? Are we responsible for our choices if they are causally determined by our desires? If God preordains a plan for the history of the created universe down to the smallest details and creates the universe accordingly, are we not mere puppets? And, most importantly, what is our actual predicament: are we free, and if so, how should we understand our freedom?

In this course, we will explore how a number of early modern philosophers—Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Leibniz, du Châtelet, Hume, and Reid—answer these questions. We will seek to identify and understand:

  • their conceptions of freedom
  • the relevant contexts of discussion (e.g., the background intellectual debates; the philosophical commitments that shape and constrain their conceptions of freedom)
  • the particular threats to freedom the thinkers have in mind; and
  • the connections among their views.

As a student in this course, you will work on developing your ability to read historical texts; practice identifying, articulating, and analyzing arguments and positions from those texts; and practice constructing your own arguments about the texts and expressing those arguments in writing and orally during class meetings. You should be prepared to engage actively  in writing and in discussion with the material and the ideas of the other participants in the class.